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MOUNT WASHINGTON ee"It was the first time in M.D. Jasper’s 22 years as a Bullitt East High music educator that he questioned if the school would have a marching band.
But 2008 presented a perfect storm for the marching Chargers.
Twenty-two seniors in the 2007-2008 class had just graduated and left the organization with 38 musicians ee" the smallest, youngest and most inexperienced marching band Jasper had ever led.
Eighteen of its members were freshmen, many of which had never marched before. The band’s median age was 14.
“We had several middle schoolers that if they hadn’t marched, I’m not sure we would’ve even had a band,” Jasper said.
To add to the chaos, the band had nowhere to hold its summer practices because the school’s parking lot was under construction.
But the musicians were determined and Jasper believed in his students. It took a little more work, a little more time and a lot more patience, but, together, the group came together to make what Jasper described as one of the most memorable years in BEHS marching band history.
“We told them from the beginning that you guys have something to prove,” Jasper said. “Their energy levels stayed high and they never hit a slump.”
The 2008 marching band started its season in July with two weeks of marching camp. When school began, the group had two to three night practices and marched at football games.
Jasper said it was difficult to choose music and devise a routine for such a unique bunch of students. Although he wanted to challenge the group, he didn’t want to ask too much of the younger students.
He settled on two pieces: Thor, a robust, attention-grabbing, forceful piece and Ghosts of the Taman Negara, a mysterious piece based upon a Malaysian tiger research expedition.
Learning the music and the routine wasn’t easy and many students made sacrifices to better the band.
Band members like junior Nicole Spurlock were forced to learn new instruments to strengthen the ensemble’s weak spots. Spurlock normally played the clarinet but switched to the saxophone to benefit the group.
Spurlock, being one of the oldest in the band, said she helped younger marchers learn their routines and basic marching skills.
“I think the younger marchers struggled quite a bit but they paid attention and worked hard,” she said.
For Spurlock, it was important to make 2008 a great year.
“For a lot of my friends, it’s their last year and I wanted it to be a great year so I was a little bit disappointed but now I’m very proud of our band. We’ve come a long way.”
The band tirelessly practiced its routine in preparation for two Kentucky Music Educators Association competitions, one in September and another in October.
The band scored proficient or “excellent” at both contests and qualified to advance to the state quarter finals.
Although the marching Chargers didn’t go on to state finals, Jasper said he was extremely proud of the group’s accomplishments.
“With the enthusiasm they had here, we became a really solid unit. We only had six seniors. It’s sometimes hard to get kids to work this hard, but they did,” he said.
Freshman Stephanie Bohr, who plays the bass clarinet and saxophone, said the beginning of the year was overwhelming, but was glad she didn’t give up.
“We had our first practice and I had no idea what I was going,” Bohr said. “It took me a while to get the whole marching thing, but I learned how to do it. I was surprised at how far we came. We had a lot of people playing new instruments.”
Sophomore Jimmy Caldwell, who plays saxophone, admitted that at the beginning of the year his expectations were low.
“I didn’t even think we’d make quarter finals,” he said. “But the obstacles made people want to work even harder and that helped us even more.”
Jasper said he has great expectations for the years to come. He said many of the middle school and freshmen marchers who survived a first very tough year would make for a better marching band in the future.
Looking back on a marching season that just came to a close, Jasper is just glad that everyone committed to march on, no matter what the obstacle.
“This was a different kind of challenge than what I’ve had,” he said. “The year could’ve gone really badly, but it didn’t. These kids deserve the recognition.”